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When You Are a Leader, Create Your Own User Manual
Speed up onboarding by telling others how you think and feel
Imagine you started as a product leader, or any leader for that matter, in a new group. Maybe you have just been promoted or, even more challenging, you joined a new company, and people who don’t know you expect leadership traits from you.
Each new role will have its unique challenges, including understanding company culture, building relationships and trust in your team as well as with stakeholders, or getting into the respective industry and market. But primarily, you'll be responsible for managing and developing your (product management) team. A team for who you are like an alien, an unknown species, they don’t know how to deal with:
Since they don’t know you:
They will not immediately understand your way of thinking and how you want to provide guidance and direction. Specifically, how your leadership style differs from their previous experience to which they are accustomed, say in terms of directive vs. supportive management.
They will not share your visions, at least not in the beginning. Maybe there was a clear objective for which you were hired. Maybe you bring your own mission on how you want to bring the organization forward. In any case, the team cannot know.
They won’t know your background, skills, and work experience. Hence, they cannot assess to what extent you can help them in their daily job, how much personal responsibility and autonomy you will provide them, or support them in their professional growth.
Finally, they will not know your little quirks. The way you respond to proposals, how you express dissatisfaction or delight, or what it means when you shake your head or speak faster than usual.
To cross that initial chasm and help people to get to know you better, I strongly recommend:
Create a User Manual that describes key aspects of your personality, the way of working with you, and what you expect from others.
Provide some career background. Not your full CV (which probably is on LinkedIn anyways). But highlight a few aspects that are relevant for future collaboration.
Include hobbies to provide a more complete picture of your personality. When you enjoy activities such as motorbike riding or downhill, the team can expect a fast-paced leader. When you work for NGOs in your spare time, it shows you care about social responsibility.
Describe how you work, what your principles are, and how you organize your way of thinking. Which mental models do you apply?
Clearly describe what others can expect from you — and what you will expect from them. Not in detail, of course, that’s a topic for later 1:1s. But in terms of social behavior, ownership, or collaboration on the job.
Be honest and include your little quirks. Not only does that make you human, but also your team will better understand your reactions and emotional attitudes.
If you want to see an example, check out my LinkedIn profile which includes my very own User Manual. I explain
how I moved into Product Management leadership and how my tech education still influences me,
that I am a speed-lover, maybe I should even add having ants in my pants,
how I think in triangles to simplify my life,
what I am trying to be for my team but also that I demand, e.g., owning your monkey,
and that I often use sarcasm or other means of an exaggeration to emphasize a certain point I want to make.
I highly recommend thinking about such a personal inventory, regardless of the final format of the document. Even beyond your next team, it will also help you to get clarity about your own thinking and way of working.